#30 Virginia Tech Softball 2016 Preview

Virginia Tech Hokies
Overall Rank: #30
Conference Rank: #5 ACC
Virginia Tech Logo 
The Hokies are looking for their fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament after making it to the Tennessee Regional last season, where they dropped out early. To do so, Virginia Tech is going to rely on mostly underclassmen, as 15 of the 22 players are either freshman or sophomores and of those 15, eight are freshmen. The Hokies got off to a fast start last season, but ended the year losing 10 of their last 11 games, so they'll be looking to get that bad taste out of their mouths. It's a usually successful program, so it shouldn't be too hard for that to happen.
2015: 34-23, 9-14
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Scot Thomas
Field Players:
Virginia Tech brings back only one of its top five hitters, Kelsey Mericka, but luckily for the Hokes Mericka was the team's top power hitter last season, blasting 17 home runs, a team high, and driving in 44 teammates, which was tied for tops on the squad. She also had six doubles en route to hitting .274. Katey Smith, who hit .270 with six doubles, five home runs and 32 RBI. Jessie Mehr and Vanessa Gonzalez, who hit six and five home runs, respectively, and Caroline Schoenewald, who started 22 of the 32 games she played in, will be looked upon to contribute more as the young players work their way into the lineup.
While the Hokies have a lot of holes on offense, they do bring back two of the three starters that started double digit games, including Maggie Tyler, who started 25 of the 41 games she appeared in. The senior went 15-14 with a 3.17 ERA and threw 12 complete games. She racked up 227 strikeouts in her 181.2 innings pitched, while walking only 57. Virginia Tech also brings back sophomore Mikaela Aiken, who saw action in 18 games, including 11 starts. She went 7-3 with a 2.91 ERA. The Hokies also have freshman Olivia Lattin, who went 20-1 as a senior in high school with a 0.96 ERA and ten shutouts.   
Who to Watch:
The Hokies brought in an impressive freshman class, led by Lattin, Caitlyn Nolan and Kinsey Johnson. Nolan was a four-time all-state selection in South Carolina and last year was nominated for the Wendy's Heisman Award after hitting .627 with 32 hits, 24 runs, 31 RBI, 13 doubles, eight home runs and a slugging percentage of 1.353 as a senior. She's listed as a utility player on the roster, so the Hokies will be able to use her versatility all over the field. Johnson, on the other hand, is listed as a third baseman and outfielder and improved every year in high school. As a senior, she hit .692 with 54 hits, 11 doubles, 11 home runs and 54 RBI. Her home run total was one off of the state single-season record. Johnson also broke eight school single-season season hitting records (most at-bats, most runs, most hits, most doubles, most home runs, most RBIs, highest batting average and highest on-base percentage) and finished with a career average of .490, 13 home runs and 115 runs scored.
Final Projection:
Having such a young squad can take a toll on a team, but with young players returning who have experience already is very helpful and will allow the freshmen to not feel the pressure of having to be amazing right off the bat. Mericka might be asked to carry the load, especially early, but she will also get the help she needs from Smith, Mehr and Gonzalez. The Hokies are also going to need Tyler to step up and be an ace this season. Virginia Tech's schedule doesn't do it any favors, as it faces Michigan, South Florida, South Carolina and Florida in its first weekend of play. The Hokies follow that up with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, where they play Michigan and Minnesota twice each.
Projected Postseason:  NCAA Softball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Kelsey Mericka, 3B/C, 168
Hits: Kelsey Mericka, 3B/C, 46
Home Runs: Kelsey Mericka, 3B/C, 17
RBIs: Kelsey Mericka, 3B/C, 44
Runs: Kelsey Mericka, 3B/C, 32
Stolen Bases: Vanessa Gonzalez, OF, 3
Wins: Maggie Tyler, P, 15
Innings Pitched: Maggie Tyler, P, 187.2
Strikeouts: Maggie Tyler, P, 227
Complete Games: Maggie Tyler, P, 12